Friday, January 27, 2017

Tips for sewing on quilt sleeves

Once you've finished a quilt and it's ready to be hung, you need to sew on a quilt sleeve. It's a long piece of fabric that can only be hand-sewn onto the back of the quilt* (if you sewed it on by machine before you quilt the whole thing, it would just get quilted over. I've thought about alternatives many times, and I feel like if someone could magically do mine, I could kiss them!).

*EDIT: Thanks to Ben and Meli who mentioned using a blind hem stitch to attach after the quilt is done - you can see a tutorial here by Lee Heinrich for Bernina. If you have the right equipment, this could work for you, too!

I find it a pain to do - mostly because you're dealing with large swathes of fabric, which you have to fashion into long tunnel-like contraptions, pin accurately to the quilt, and then hand sew. I'd much rather be working on another project! However, using Jacquie Gering's easy, picture-heavy quilt sleeve tutorial makes things a little easier.

Anyway, since I've sewn almost 20 quilt sleeves over the last month for my solo exhibition in March (phew, someone please get me some hand lotion and a glass of wine, stat), I've compiled a few pointers. I'm no expert but I hope these do help someone out there.

Quilt Sleeve Tips:
  • Once you’ve made your sleeve, lay your quilt out completely flat to pin it down. You want to make sure your quilt is about the same distance from the binding on either side (Jacquie also illustrates this in her tutorial). Plus, if it's not completely flat, you'll have a lot of trouble hand sewing it, and that could even create a wave in the quilt (ask me how I know this! I've done some un-sewing, too). 

  • Start pinning and sewing in the same place. See the diagram above - your quilt sleeve gets pinned less than an inch below the top of your quilt, on the back. If you're looking at the back, pin from the top left corner, across towards the right, down, and across to the left, back to where you started. This is the way I've found works best. Whatever you do, I would not recommend sewing the bottom part of the sleeve on first.
  • Make sure the middle of your sleeve is puffed up (that's where the pole or hanging rod will go). If you've made the sleeve correctly, it should puff like a triangle of a D shape (again, look at Jacquie's tutorial. You can also see the pressed line above where my sleeve puffs up).
  • Pay attention to requirements of the show or exhibit. The typical size I've seen is 4" wide for a quilt sleeve, but there have been a couple of shows that require other sizes. I would assume that if you don't have the right size sleeve, your quilt cannot be included in the show, as it will not fit. Do any of you have further comments about this? I'd love to know.
  • That being said, reuse your quilt sleeves if you take them off after the show. You might have to adjust them depending on your next quilt, but at least you don't have to completely remake it. We sew, right? We can refashion almost anything!
  • Put on a good movie or TV show, and sew away. That's the BEST advice I can give to shoo away the boredom (if, indeed, mountains of hand sewing bores you).

Do you have any other advice for making quilt sleeves? Hopefully all my hard work on my quilts will be worth it in the end!

P.S. Thank you for all the lovely feedback on my last post. It was truly a wonderful experience and I appreciate your comments so much! 


  1. If I think ahead, and if I'm machine sewing the binding, I'll catch one edge of the sleeve in under the bindng as I sew it on. So then there's only one edge to hand stitch.

    1. Same here unfortunately in the past I've only thought of that when after the binding is attached to the front, I usually hand bind. I've started cutting out my hanging sleeve and binding at the same time so I don't forget to attach the hanging sleeve when I'm binding.

  2. It is possible to attach a sleeve by machine using a blind hem stitch. There are a few tutorials online for this. I've tried it, and it takes some practice. My current machine does not have a way to adjust the width of the blind hem stitch, so I'm not sure I can use this method now. For my next sleeve, I might baste it in place by machine instead of pinning, but still finish it by hand.

  3. I agree about pinning and sewing - I start in the same spot you recommend and move around. Sometimes I don't stitch down the two short sides.

  4. I try to use a fabric that goes with the quilt backing. If I'm lazy and don't take off the sleeve, then it won't stand out too much. I've even washed and dried a quilt with the coordinating sleeve on it.

  5. Thanks for posting this, Jess! I'll be using your tips this weekend : )

  6. Perfect timing as I have 10-15 sleeves to attach by March for a local guild show. I was wondering if you or anyone else has seen or tried this safety pin method that is quick, easy…and totally temporary by Martingale, . I just need the sleeves on temporarily and the show will have the quilts hanging just 3 days. Do you think this is a worth a try or should I just get to hand stitching? Also I wonder if it really is faster to pin than just stitch. Curious what you all think, I have never put on a sleeve ever lol.

  7. Ugh quilt sleeves! I'll be adding binding and a sleeve to our charity quilt tomorrow and completely agree with everything you've mentioned here. I've never seen a quilt show require something larger than 4" sleeves, but sometimes I see a smaller sleeve requirement for mini quilts (like under 20"). I HATE when they don't give that open so you had a massive 4" sleeve to some mini quilt and then they hang it using a fucking dowel. I could have added a 1" sleeve for this! Argh.


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